Oct. 30, 2009

NCAA.com Men's Soccer Blog

By Kevin Scheitrum
NCAA.com

Shane Recklet says that the moment he saw Freddy Hall walk onto the field, he knew things would be different.

Hall was fast, sure, and he could jump, as high and as long as Recklet had ever seen, long and quick like the burst of hope and a smile stretching across a face.

And he sure smiled a lot, Hall did. Still does. Talked a lot, too.

"The first drill we did in the very first practice, basically everyone could tell the amount of talent this guy had," said Recklet, now a senior midfielder. "He had this confidence in himself, and he was a good communicator. A lot of people don't have that in their transition to being a new team. A new player, they're shy at first, that wasn't the case with Freddy."

Recklet was a center-back in 2006, when Hall stepped onto the pitch at Quinnipiac after transferring out of South Florida. Hall couldn't play that first year, as he sat out due to transfer restrictions. But ever since then, he's played almost every minute in goal for the Bobcats, molding himself into arguably the nation's most important - if not best - goaltender.

The Bermuda-born Hall, who transferred out of USF after seeing a few minutes of action in 2004 and sitting out due to injury in '05, currently sits atop the nation in both save percentage (.931) and raw saves-made (94). This, after he led the country in both categories in 2007. He's also fourth nationally in goals-against average (0.431). And he's perhaps the biggest reason why, heading into Northeast Conference-leading Quinnipiac's final three regular season games - including a matchup on Sunday with conference rival and No. 14 Monmouth - the Bobcats (8-1-6, 5-0-2 NEC) have a legitimate shot at hosting their first-ever conference tourney and claiming their very first NEC title.

"He has the ability to jump from one side of the goal to the other," Recklet said. "He can just make game-saving saves that come out of nowhere.

"He's a huge part of every game," he continued. "He's a big part of why we win, why we're able to stay within teams, especially the bigtime teams we play."

Quantifying soccer goalies is a tough job. Goals-against average is, at the very best, a soupy hybrid between a goalie and his defense. Ninety minutes of shutout ball when a goalie faces one (or no) shots on goal still pares down the GAA as much as a goalie who makes 10 saves to get there.

For reference, Akron's freshman goalie David Meves leads the nation in GAA, putting up a .204 mark for a Zips defense that's on pace to break the NCAA's all-time mark for single-season goals-against average. In 15 games, he's made 22 saves.

Hall has made 94. An average of 6.26 per game. Meves didn't have to make his seventh save until Akron's fifth game of the year. As a sophomore in 2007, when Hall also led the nation in save percentage (.913), he averaged 7.38.

"When you have a great goalkeeper in goal and you limit them to shots a distance, Freddy is just too good to let them in," said Quinnipiac head coach Eric Da Costa. "And when they're close, he doesn't let him either."

So, goals per game doesn't quite do him justice. For him, success is best tallied one by one, save by save, bruise by bruise. Only seven shots have managed to find their way into the net this year. Eight times, he's shut teams out completely. And, had he stayed in to finish another game that he exited late, he could have had nine.

"Letting in goals is the worst feeling," Hall said. "I was actually telling one of my roommates the other night that the worst feeling for me is the goal being scored and the ball bouncing out of the net. I can have a goal if the ball stays in the net, but if it comes out that's the worst."

He hasn't had to experience that much this year. And, for a team that's tied six games on the season, it's a fortunate thing. With an offense that's scoring 1.27 goals per game, dozens of those 94 saves have meant the difference between a win and a tie, or, almost just as often, a tie and a loss.

"We have a very deep team, and Freddy's a part of that," Da Costa said. "I'm not sure where we'd be without him. I'd like to think that no one player is bigger than the team or the program, so I like to think we'd be in the same position, but he's a huge asset of ours a huge part of our success."

He was a pretty big get, back when he went into the transfer market in 2005. USF had been good to him, Hall said. There aren't too many bad memories at all associated with that place. But hailing from Bermuda and having attended prep school in New Hampshire, he wanted to head somewhere a little more familiar.

"I came back after winter break, and realized I needed something different," Hall said.

Hall liked being closer to Bermuda at Quinnipiac. He also liked the young coaching staff, liked their goal of getting the Bobcats to the next tier in college soccer.

And, once he stepped onto the field in Connecticut, he got to work holding up his end of the deal.

"It was a big change for me, going arguably from the best players in this age group at USF, some of the best players I've ever played with, coming here," Hall said. "I wouldn't say it was a huge drop, skill-level wise, but not the entire team was as skillful as USF. It was a drastic change, but Eric, he really had a dream of players coming in, great recruiting classes.

"I felt more responsibility," he continued. "I had to make sure that I was doing my job in goal."

The team could barely believe what it was seeing, Recklet said. There, in front of them, was as good an athlete as they'd ever seen. An instant leader: just add transfer papers.

But if there was anything lacking from Hall back then, it was the ability to run a field, to arrange and direct his defense in a way that'd complement his own skills. Over three years, those skills have caught up with the abilities that first caught the eye of his teammates, Da Costa said.

"It's something we worked on, something to improve on, with his communication skills," the coach said. "At that next level, he won't be able to just make the saves he makes. A lot of times goaltender don't make it because they haven't been able to develop that quality. This year he's manufactured goals."

"Freddie is a phenomenal athlete, a freak of nature, and he depended on that, rightfully so," Da Costa said. "He relied on his strengths, his athleticism, that he could always make the save, just because he's a super-athlete, but now he's focused more on technical ability. He's become a complete goalie."

Hall's talking more now. About how excited he is about this weekend, and the heights that Quinnipiac's slowly ascended to. And, when he sits down with his coach, he talks about the very distinct possibility of playing professional soccer, when the season's over and he moves on.  

But before then, he said, there's a conference championship to be won.

"That's a scary thought," DeCosta said of Hall's departure. "It's not something I wanna think about `til next year when I don't have him."